Mental Fatigue Impairs Repeated Sprint and Jump Performance in Team Sport Athletes

This paper aimed to investigate the effects of mental fatigue (MF), induced by a cognitively demanding task, on repeated sprint ability (RSA), repeated jump ability (RJA), and psychomotor vigilance. The study conducted utilized a randomized within-participant design and measured various performance metrics, including peak and mean running time, jump height, percent decrement score (Sdec), blood lactate, heart rate, rating of perceived exertion (RPE), and psychomotor vigilance test (PVT) scores.

Some key points and takeaways are:

  • Effect of Mental Fatigue on Performance: MF impaired repeated sprinting and jumping ability, particularly during the directional phase of the RSA test and the repeated jumping test (RJA). This impairment was evidenced by slower mean running time and decreased jump height and was associated with increased RPE.
  • Psychomotor Vigilance: PVT scores indicated a decline in sustained attention and vigilance following the Stroop task inducing MF. Moreover, the combination of mental and physical fatigue further exacerbated this decline, emphasizing the cumulative negative effects on cognitive performance.
  • Metabolic and Physiological Factors: Interestingly, there were no significant differences in blood lactate and heart rate between conditions, suggesting that these factors did not mediate the decline in performance observed under MF conditions. This underscores the importance of considering cognitive factors in understanding athletic performance beyond traditional physiological markers.
  • Complex Cognitive Demands: Results of the study suggest that tasks requiring higher cognitive engagement, such as directional sprinting and repeated jumping, are more susceptible to the effects of MF compared to basic linear running and singular jump tasks. This highlights the interplay between cognitive demands and physical performance in athletic tasks.
  • Implications and Future Directions: The findings provide insights into the impact of MF on performance in sports, emphasizing the need for ecologically valid studies considering the complexity of athletic performance. Future research should explore recovery strategies and interventions to mitigate MF’s negative effects, such as brain endurance training or psychological and nutritional interventions.

The practical implications for this study are:

  • Training Program Design: Coaches and trainers can integrate cognitive fatigue management strategies into athletes’ training programs. Understanding the potential impact of mental fatigue on performance, especially in tasks requiring complex cognitive engagement, can help tailor training regimens to mitigate its effects. This might involve scheduling cognitively demanding activities strategically within training cycles or implementing fatigue-inoculation training to build resilience.
  • Performance Monitoring: Monitoring athletes’ cognitive and physical fatigue levels during training and competition can provide valuable insights into their readiness and performance capabilities. Incorporating tools like the Psychomotor Vigilance Test (PVT) or subjective ratings of mental fatigue can help identify when athletes may be at risk of performance decrements due to mental fatigue.
  • Recovery Strategies: Coaches and support staff can implement targeted recovery strategies to mitigate the effects of mental fatigue on athletic performance. This may include incorporating short-term recovery interventions such as binaural sounds or specific psychological and nutritional interventions known to reduce mental fatigue.
  • Skill Development: Understanding how mental fatigue impacts specific aspects of performance, such as directional sprinting and repeated jumping, can inform skill development and technique refinement. Coaches can focus on improving athletes’ ability to maintain technical proficiency under conditions of mental fatigue, enhancing their overall performance resilience.
  • Individualized Approach: Recognizing that athletes may vary in their susceptibility to mental fatigue, coaches can adopt an individualized approach to training and competition management. This involves considering athletes’ cognitive capacities, stress levels, and recovery needs when planning and adjusting training loads and competition schedules.
  • Performance Psychology: Incorporating mental fatigue management strategies into performance psychology interventions can help athletes optimize their mental readiness and resilience in competitive environments. This may involve techniques such as cognitive restructuring, attentional control, and stress management to help athletes cope with and mitigate the effects of mental fatigue during critical performance moments.